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Marina Chang

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  1. Just wanted to mention that we were blown away by the top flight food at the "Cellar Door" cafe for extremely reasonable prices. Chef Charlie Parker was trained by David Kinch in the Manresa kitchen. The approximately 6-month old restaurant shares space with the Bonny Doon tasting room. I ordered the Prix Fixe for $32.00, which consisted of: (fresh) Seared Sardines & Local Greens, Beets & Raisins, Apple & Dolcetto Braised Veal Cheeks, Fork Smashed (smoked) Potatoes & Rapini, dessert: Almond Stuffed Peaches with Stewed Blueberries & Brown Butter Shortbread The sardine and greens were wonderfully fresh. The sardine skin was seared light golden and crispy, and the beets and raisins were perfect sweet and tart flavor bursts for the butter lettuce and fresh sardine. When the veal cheeks arrived, I almost couldn't stop inhaling the aroma of the reduction in which the cheeks had obviously rolled. I almost swooned at my first bite of the cheeks, meltingly tender, juicy, unctuous, with a wonderful beef flavor and waft of roasted garlic. The smoked smashed potatoes imparted that dining-by-campfire taste and offset the richness of those incredible cheeks. (BTW, for $5.00 you can also get an order of smoked fingerling potatoes bathing in aioli.) The Almond Stuffed Peaches and Stewed Blueberries were also delicious, with the nutty, the sweet, the tart, and the buttery crunch. My husband orderd the Lamb Sugo, Potato Gnocchi & Braised Greens ($14) off the "small plates" menu list. I chided him for a pedestrian sounding dish. Besides receiving a good sized bowl of gnocchi, what arrived was no ordinary flabby gnocchi. The handmade gnocchi was delicate, yet not too soft, with lightly browned crispy edges. They were mixed in with tender large white beans, roasted garlic, with small hunks of lamb, and wilted greens (chard?), and all were coated with a flavorful lamb "sugo" reduction. We washed the meal down with Bonny Doon '08 Vin Gris de Cigare, then some of the delicious Nebbiolo, and ended with glasses of the Viogner Port (found only at the winery). The port was an unexpected gift, as it is the exact same pink color as the Vin Gris de Cigare, and our server accidentally brought a "quartino" carafe of it instead of the Vin Gris. She initially whisked the port away and then brought the full glasses back for us to enjoy later. But, I digress... At the end of our meal, my husband and I both agreed that the quality and craftsmanship of the food was astounding. We had recently dined at Cyrus (in Healdsburg), and felt Chef Parker's dishes were every bit as tasty as equivalent dishes at Cyrus. (And the folks we dined with at Cyrus considered it better than The French Laundry - so, does that make the Bonny Doon Cellar Door Cafe better than The French Laundry?!)
  2. Returned last week. Here is a portion of my report on our eating experiences. I'll add more later, as I continue to gather my notes. We didn't do too well in Braga, Portugal. Since we were staying in the Bom Jesus area above town, we were too lazy to negotiate our way down into the confusion of roads of downtown and opted to eat in the hotel restaurant (Hotel do Elevador). The menu description looked good, but the execution was pretty average. The portions, however, were enormous. I always feel bad sending food back, but no two people could have finished our meal. The vinho verde (Muralhas de Monção, 2003) we ordered was very pleasant. Lisbon: Based on a roaring recommendation by Steve Klc, we went on a mission to find the Restaurant Pico no Chao (Rua de O Seculo 170), Tel 21431973. When we finally found it in the Bairro Alto – a 10 minute walk from the Solar do Vinho do Porto - it looked closed. The phone number was disconnected, and while we smelled the aromas of food cooking through a little broken window, the place was locked shut, with only an old paper menu tacked next to the wood door. We attempted to visit again at 9:00 PM, when it should have been in full swing according to the menu (opens at 8:00 PM), and it was still locked up tight. However, we did find another new restaurant just around the corner and a block up the street: ‘O templo dos sabores.’ It was small, very modern and inviting - opened within the last six months by a young chef, Fabio Amaral, from Brazil. His dishes were non-traditional combinations of ingredients and flavors, and the prices for these complex and labor intensive creations were ridiculously cheap. We began with gratis pre-dinner flutes of cava and fresh strawberry bubbly drink, along with very tasty pastry puffs filled with a steaming hot chicken mixture. The fish ‘bolinho(s)’ or croquettes with lemon ali-oli sauce, and the light, but creamy, onion soup were all excellent; as was the fish in filo dough with leeks, apples and oyster sauce. The accompaniments for the bread basket were equally ambitious: goat cheese and basil spread, garlic butter, and eggplant relish/spread. For entrees we ordered the pork tenderloin with honey and lime sauce, and bacalhau com molho de espinafres, which were good but not up to the same standard as the appetizers. The chocolate dessert was excellent, consisting of a fresh hot very chocolate-y cookie with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. We were excited to discover this new restaurant, but worried that it might go the way of its neighbor Pico no Chao, down the street. The streets are almost exclusively residential, and remote with almost no foot traffic. Although it was a Saturday night our restaurant had only two other couples the entire night. We found a good hole in the wall eatery for Goan food, Restaurante Zuari (41 Rua S. Joao da Mata) at Santos-o-Velho (#15 tram to the Santos stop for the Antiques Museum). The small place also serves as a local bar/café for elderly guys, including one who talks to himself. The owner/cook is very engaging and speaks fairly good English. His curries are good and hot, excellent samosas, homemade mango ice cream, and a bebinca that he is very proud of. Went to the ‘marisqueira’ Ramiro (Avda Amirante Reis), which is similar to eating at a Maryland crab house, but with fantastic pata negra jamon and huge piles of buttered toasted bread instead of corn on the cob. Half way through our meal we saw things go past that were not on the menu, such as buey de mar (ox-of-the-sea) crabs. Already on our third glass of beer and with wooden mallets pounding on our spider crab, while snacking on garlic cilantro clams, and garlic shrimp, we passed on the other crab. We should have checked out what was under the glass at the front counters of seafood, Rather than ordering off the menu. Incredible place for shellfish and people watching. Like good tourists we stopped at the Cervejaria daTrinidade. It was percebes season everywhere we went and we finally ordered a plate here, to munch with our dark Sagres beer on tap. Good thing I observed a man eating a huge plateful at Ramiro’s the night before, and knew to twist and pull to get at the interior meat. Delicious with beer, like peanuts of the sea. Sanxenxo & Santiago de Compostela: Our two favorite meals of this trip were at Pepe Vieira in Sanxenxo, and then at Casa Marcelo in Santiago. Our meal at Pepe Vieira was just marvelous, probably the highlight of our trip. It is outrageous that this restaurant does not have even a single Michelin star. It deserves at least two stars! We ordered the tasting menu and were served seven dishes before our two desserts and the final sweet. I believe the tasting menu cost only about 38 euros per person. We had some of the most perfectly prepared seafood I’ve eaten anywhere. Rivaling dishes at any of the top places in the San Sebastian area. Five of the seven dishes revolved around fish or shellfish. A few of the dishes were being served for Lent. My favorite was the caballo, a mackeral type fish, which was en escabeche, with a prune sauce garnish, a local Galician apple sorbet, stunningly sweet, mild, juicy orange sections, and pine nuts. The fish was very lightly cooked, and outstandingly tender, juicy, rich, with wonderfully fresh texture. We asked our server/sommelier, and the chef’s brother, Xoan -winner of Spain’s Golden Nose Award - for a local wine recommendation, and wow did we ever get one! He unhesitatingly recommended the 2002 Gorvia, from the Quinta da Muradella, D.O. Monterrei, made from the Galician Mencia grape. Aromas of plums and licorice, a deep, dark, rich, complex wine with good fruit, soft tannins, and that was as smooth as silk. Only 400 bottles (not cases) were produced and all of them purchased by Pepe Vieira, Casa Marcelo, or Pepe Solla. We learned 2002 was only the second release of this wine; and although the producer has been making it for 10 years, he refused to sell it until he deemed its quality good enough for public consumption. It was quite amazing, wow. The new release might be out by now. Will continue and report on Casa Marcelo next.
  3. Victor, you are a life saver. We will only be staying one or two nights at each of these smaller towns in Portugal, so we should be able to try out most of your recommendations. We'll make a special point of seeking out Bem Haja. Appropos of nothing, after Pinhao, we are making a special trip over to Caceres for a day, just to eat at Atrio, our favorite Spanish restaurant south of Madrid. We lunched there about five years ago and thought they surely deserved more than one Michelin star. We ordered their superb tasting menu and so enjoyed the glass of Pedro Ximenez that marked the end of our meal that José Polo very kindly provided us with a mini-tasting and tutorial on the various Pedro Ximenez dessert wines. It's been too long since that lunch, and I see that the Michelin Man has since been there again and agreed with us. When we return in late March I will be sure to report back to everyone on our dining experiences. Looking forward to some navajas, percebes, and maybe some berberechos. - Marina.
  4. Thanks for your thoughts Kerriar and Bux. Based on your comments, as well as the threads thoughtfully spoon fed to me by Pedro, I think I have a sense of the different experience we would get from the two restaurants. We should reserve one for each night. We had been wondering if one might have been so outstanding to merit dinner two nights in a row! Kerriar, we will be staying at the Costa Vella, which is described as an intimate little hotel with good views. I left my husband in charge of making the hotel bookings. Your suggestion of the Palacio del Carmen would have been a good choice. We'll definitely try for it next time. - Marina P.S. Anyone know about those little towns in Portugal?
  5. Ten days from now, we will be visiting Portugal and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Most of the restaurant recommendations I have found from past threads have armed us with a healthy list for Lisbon and Porto. However, we still have a big goose egg for our lists for some of the other towns we will visit: Braga, Obidos, Evora and Pinhao. We are desperately seeking suggestions. In Portugal, we are considering Casa de Calcada (which has a Michelin star) in Amarante. This is somewhat out of our way, so any feedback would be appreciated - to help us decide whether it would be worth a long drive. There are two Michelin-starred restaurants in Santiago de Compostela: Toni Vincente and Casa Marcelo. I've read high praise for Casa Marcelo in a thread started this time last year, but have not seen any comments about Toni Vincente. We have two nights in that area. Any crumbs would be greatly appreciated . - Marina.
  6. Sorry for those multiple posts. I kept getting an error message that I wasn't reaching my server, so I dutifully kept going back and hitting the key to post my reply. Turned out that it posted every time. Thanks to the eGullet elves who deleted all the repeats. Points were well taken that this is a forum about Chinese cuisine. I guess I just went off on a tangent and kept going. In trying to keep within the spirit of this thread, my parents although both of the same race had cultural differences due to my father being an ABC from Hawaii and my mother being from Northern China. As a Honolulu boy, my father was raised on Spam, Vienna Sausages and macaroni salad. My mom tried to accommodate his cravings for this Hawaiian comfort food, and we kids couldn't figure out why we were the only ones in the neighborhood who ever ate Spam sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread, or why none of our friends ever ate Vienna sausage snacks. Does that qualify as Chinese food, if a Chinese person makes it? (Edited for glaring grammatical error.)
  7. Maybe I am just confused by the references people are making about being of one race or another. Are we talking about individuals who are truly immigrants (i.e. born and raised on the Asian continent) or people who are American, but ethnically of another race? I am half of a bi-racial couple, but we are both American. As a third generation American of Chinese Ancestry growing up in NYC, I was raised on knishes, bialys, zeppoles, sausage and pepper subs, as well as the real deal Chinese food found in the revolving door of restaurants in NY's Chinatown. While my hubby, who is a WASP from southern California, and I both have fairly experienced palates for the various regional styles of Chinese food, it only constitutes about one tenth of what we eat. I met him in a Mexican restaurant in Honolulu over a pitcher of margaritas. As the author of a book about foods of the Pyrenees region I constantly answer questions concerning why an ethnically Asian person would explore European cuisine. Not to be the turd in the punchbowl, but I see a double standard and stereotyping of people of Asian ancestry. When a Caucasian American specializes in a cuisine outside of his or her ethnic roots, it's seen as an expansion of one's culinary repertoire. I doubt that the decision to specialize in Mexican cuisine by Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy was interpreted as a rejection of their ancestral European roots, or Barbara Tropp, when she wrote the China Moon Cookbook. Why is it that Caucasian Americans are afforded the intellectual freedom to explore other cuisines of the world, but when one is racially or ethnically distinct, one's food interests are expected to stay within your hereditary roots? I'm all for exploring my roots, I just don't want that to be the only choice I'm allowed. Uh sorry for the tirade, I was on a roll (no, not a dinner roll). The last time I was in Portland, several years ago, I had to say everything twice. Everytime I went up to someone they would get this dazed look in their eyes, and when I stopped talking, would say, "What?" I think they couldn't believe I was speaking unaccented English. Mr. Ed probably got the same reaction a lot when people came up to his stall.
  8. Yes, we are going to The Big Crush event. We tried to stay in Plymouth, but the closest lodgings we could get was in Jackson. Black Sheep, your list of winery and wine recommendations will be a big help to us. Except for a couple of wineries, we had that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look when reviewing the list of possible wineries to visit. Grand Cru, sounds like we'll need to check out Sutter Creek and the Chatter Box Cafe in particular. Thanks for the Pokerville Market tidbit. With so much wine and so little time, we're always looking for a good place for one stop shopping on wines. WineSonoma, I didn't know about the Fair Play Valley area. Their website makes me think it's something like Brigadoon, only with wine.
  9. Thanks for the recommendations. It must be that the area is either relatively untested by eGulleters or members have decided that the food is so unremarkable as to not remark. To add to the archives for future questions about the Amador area, I'll return with a summary of what we find.
  10. We will be taking our first visit to the wineries in Amador County, during the first weekend in October, and would appreciate your recommendations for places to eat in that area. Has anyone done much exploration in Amador? (My word searches of the California forum discussions didn't turn up very much.) We'll also be glad for any favorite winery recommendations you might have, too. Marina
  11. Melkor, I was just about to crow about my great taco truck find at the Geyserville exit off of Hwy 101, and lo and behold you had pictures of it! A couple of weeks ago, I had some of their really, really, really, tasty sopes with a very healthy variety of ingredients piled on top. Good pictures.
  12. A few years ago, we relocated from the Washington, D.C. area to just outside of Santa Rosa, and have sampled a variety of eateries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Here are my two-cents worth: In the town of Sonoma, for my money the two best restaurants are both very small places, and both just off the central plaza - Cafe La Haye (on Napa St.) and La Poste (teeny tiny place on Broadway). A lot of people love The Girl and the Fig, which to my mind serves technically well executed dishes, but uninspired dishes, and has never knocked my socks off. At The Lodge (hotel) - Carneros, is a large airy, California style restaurant. We last ate there about a year ago, and every dish was wonderful; however, it hasn't been consistently so, but it might be worth a visit if only for appetizers/drinks or dessert. Saveur has a great duck burger, and the style of a modest eatery, but serving lots of duck and foie gras, the prices don't match that modesty. For a good reasonable sit down lunch, we enjoy the Swiss Hotel. Not too fancy, but good food, and a nice back patio. For a budget meal and real local experience, Juanita, Juanita, has excellent burritos as big as your head (or my head). It's located on Arnold Drive almost halfway between Sonoma and Glen Ellen. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to drive to the three block town of Glen Ellen for a meal. We dined at the Glen Ellen Inn a few months ago, and while the menu had high aspirations, the food was pretty average. However, if you happen to find yourself in Glen Ellen at meal time, both The Cellar Cat (live jazz on some nights) and the Fig Cafe (affiliated with The Girl and the Fig) are two very good moderately priced restaurants. In Healdsburg, The Dry Creek Kitchen will help you burn some cash. The dining room opens onto the plaza, and is attractively spare and spacious; the food is quite good and the service can be quite pretentious. We enjoy eating at a small place called, The Charcuterie, also on the Healdburg Plaza. Delicious southern French style dishes, and a dining room filled with a piggy collection that I covet. We had a dreadful all-around experience at Zin and I will never return (short of the furniture falling apart, you name any aspect of a dining experience and it was bad -ridiculously bad). In Napa, we have enjoyed several lunches at Angele, located on the Napa River, with a very attractive dining patio. 'California' cuisine that lean toward the French style. Almost next door is Celadon, which we have heard is excellent, but haven't yet tried. Terra is one of our favorite restaurants, which we would go to more if we lived closer to Napa. Don Giovanni seems to me to be well prepared Italian comfort food, which I enjoyed. But, my bias is that I could eat Italian food every day. We last ate there about a year ago, and I can't remember what the service was like, but we did sit outside where it was quieter. Have no plans of ever eating at the French Laundry, as I don't care to wade through the extensive reservations process. Lastly, one of my current favorite restaurants in this area is in Petaluma (where they filmed American Graffiti). Central Market is located on the main drag (Petaluma Blvd?) and is continental California cuisine. The menu changes seasonally, if not daily or weekly. Prices are not bad and everything is wonderful (I've never had even a mediocre dish). In European style, the owner and chef, Tony, makes the rounds to all the tables during every meal. Those are my initial thoughts. Hope it helps.
  13. Any recommendations for good places to eat in La Paz, Mexico, or close-by in Southern Baja (excluding Cabo)? We leaving for a trip there in six days. Appreciate any morsels you may throw out for our visit.
  14. "This restaurant sounds soooooo good!!! Have you worked in the kitchen there, ie., pastry?" No, I wish. I am merely an enthusiastic fan of that kitchen. The day after our lunch at Can Roca, we ate at Can Fabes. The dreamy meal at Can Roca, somehow took the magic away from this next dining experience. I'm not saying Can Fabes was unexciting or less than a wonderful meal, but it didn't reach the same dizzying heights we experienced a year before. The fact that they ran out of or for some other reason were unable to prepare the duck could have been partially to blame. During our prior visit, the Can Fabes kitchen produced the most delicious duck I have ever eaten. We were even offered and accepted seconds on the duck.
  15. Hopefully the food and dessert descriptions about my experience at El Celler de Can Roca will help give you a better idea of the experience that awaits you. I cut and pasted some of it from another string and my Q&As. “We found Can Roca to be just the right balance of lucious comfort food and culinary experimentation. We ordered the chef's choice tasting menu, which included the most incredibly lucious, tender, succulent, lechal or spring lamb that I have ever tasted, accompanied by an espuma of its own broth, and a fresh, sweet, sheep's milk espuma, along with a spot of prune puree. We also experienced his newest dessert entitled, Anarchy - tiny jewels, cubes or dots, of different flavors and textures (basil, honey, almond, passion fruit, mint, lemon, tarragon, honey, bourbon, cardomom, orange peel, anis, pumpkin seed, ginger, violet, cloves, coconut, vanilla, coffee, etc.) - 49 ingredients in all, accompanied by a parchment scroll listing all the taste sensations. A free spirited work of culinary abstract art, and the closest we will come to tasting Harry Potter's Every Flavor Beans.” “My personal vote goes to El Celler de Can Roca as the restaurant that displayed the most creative artistry, and impish humor in its dishes, primarily desserts. Other than the every-flavor Anarchy (Anarquia) dessert, which I mentioned in a Spain thread on El Bulli, Chef Joan Roca and Pastry Chef Jordi Roca have created several other highly whimsical desserts. Their adaptation of the Lancôme perfume “Miracle” consisted of a peach purée sorbet, sprinkled with tiny gelatin cubes concentrated with the flavors of roses, lychee, and honey, and surrounded by a sauce of apricots, violets, loquats, and ginger. Startlingly aromatic and ambrosial. As a testament to their confidence at having created an edible perfume “Miracle,” a strip of paper scented with the actual Lancôme perfume accompanied the dessert in a separate cup. We did not taste their “Perfume Angel” adaptation of a Thierry Mugler scent. The most humorous dessert on the menu was the “Havana Trip.” It was served on a large crystal ashtray, and consisted of a chocolate “Partagas cigar” filled with ice cream, with one end covered in gray powdered sugar “ashes;” and accompanied by a Mojito sorbet.” For lunch we ordered the Special or “Surprise” Tasting Menu for 69 Euros per person. We started with the The dishes selected for us that day included -- Gratis appetizers: Glass of cava Caramel encrusted black olives, with an olive purée center Peanut muffins studded with sea salt crystals Buttery sesame seed caramel lace sprinkled with salt crystals The dishes selected for us that day were -- Appetizers: Buttery asparagus cream ‘espuma’ atop trout eggs Raw cockles with orange sauce and tarragon purée Avocado with a blue cheese (variety unknown) mousse topped with Serrano ham Savory seawater ‘veloute’ with egg yolk and truffles and purées of dill, fennel, and parsley Main dishes: Artichoke hearts with foie gras filled centers, topped with orange sauce and truffle essence Raw clams covered with creamy clam ‘espuma,’ sprinkled with orange zest, atop tender broad beans and ‘Bergamot’(type of pear) Seared scallop in pumpkin cream sauce with green tea gelatin, pumpkin seeds encrusted with passion fruit sugar, and a shaving of wilted shallot ‘Fideua’ made of agar noodles in consommé broth, with shrimp and young garlic ‘espuma’ Skate or ray (rare) with pineapple purée, sea water, and topped with olive oil, fresh fennel and dill Lechal (milk fed lamb), with ‘espuma’ of lamb broth and espuma’ of fresh sweet sheep milk, with a potato crisp, and dollop of prune purée All followed by the desserts described above. You may also be interested in these comments from locals we met while lunching at El Celler de Can Roca. “...we met a group of physicians from Tarragona who agreed that Can Roca was the best deal in Spanish Catalonia for both the dining experience and the price. They believed that the dining experience at El Bulli and Can Fabes were not very much better than Can Roca to merit the menu prices charged. They were horrified by the cost to eat at Can Fabes.” Lastly, we accompanied our meal with the Clos Mogador from the Priorat area, one of several outstanding red wines of the region. Enjoy.
  16. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your report on the Big Five of the San Sebastian vicinity, especially some of the detailed descriptions of the dishes. After reading of your food experiences at these famed dining rooms and comparing them with mine, it seems to me that each visit to these establishments can only be a snapshot of the ever growing and changing life of a living organism that is each restaurant. Whatever is going on at Martin Berasategui is unfortunate. I had a wonderful food and service experience there, tasting several deliciously fresh and exciting dishes, some of which were served for the first time that day. I know this is being overly simplistic, but perhaps some of your bad luck was to eat there on a day that their new attempts were not so successful and old staff was recently replaced by new?! During a visit to Zuberoa last year, although we enjoyed our meal, I thought the dishes were executed or crafted with less inspiration than your Zuberoa experience. During our first visit to Akelare, several years ago, I thought it sparkled with freshness, imagination and wit, and enjoyed it far more than Arzak. However, after my experience during our most recent visit this past spring, I would agree with you on the inconsistency of the fare. I ordered the Gin and Tonic on a plate dessert that you described and while finding it to be a novel and attractive deconstruction of the classic beverage, it wasn't my idea of a wonderful dessert, especially in such a large dinner plate serving. At El Bulli such studies in flavor are judiciously administered in small doses. I was pleased to see that you met Craig from Reno at Akelare. We also had the pleasure of chatting with Craig, who provided enlightening tidbits about the various ingredients and dishes before us. In April, he was a waiter and a stern, matronly, head waitress shooed him away from our table several times. We had feared that our furtive food chats with Craig may have gotten him in trouble, but I see we did him no permanent harm if he is now a sommelier. Somehow Mugaritz has continued to elude us due to scheduling issues.
  17. I recently read that an Australian firm announced that they would begin selling wine in specially lined, flip-top cans. I imagine this is intended primarily for wines crafted for immediate consumption, and to increase the opportunities for wine vs. beer, soda, etc. Excluding the formal rituals associated with uncorking a fine wine, is there any argument against storing a good wine this way? Even if this were an ideal storage method - as with boxed wines, and not too long ago with screw tops - preconceptions about cheap beverages coming in cans are probably enough to prevent this idea from becoming more popular.
  18. It was truly my pleasure. I want to thank all the organizers and participants of eGullet for having me as a guest eGulleteer and for showing me such genuine hospitality from beginning to end. You posed some very interesting questions and I enjoyed answering them. Special thanks to Bux, Steven Shaw, and Jason Perlow for their support. This Q&A session has sucked me into the vortex of your world, and I will be sure to continue to sift through the eGullet site, jumping into the mix from time to time. Good eats to all, - Marina
  19. While the Brebis or sheeps milk cheeses make up the majority of cheeses from the Basque areas of Spain and along the Route du Fromage in the Ossau-Iraty appellation of France, we found quite a few cheeses made from goat and cows milk as well. We purchased several cheeses made from a blend of milk from sheep and goats or sheep and cows. We almost always found these on a market day, and purchased them from individuals selling their own cheese products. If you like strong cheese that will put hair on your chest, you might seek out some of the Spanish Tupi. It originated in Catalonia, but we have purchased Basque-made Tupi. The cheese comes in a glass or earthen jar and is more like a thick cheese spread usually made from goat or sheep cheese mixed with alcohol, and perhaps some olive oil or milk, and fermented and aged for three months. It is tan in color. I believe the name Tupi is taken from the Catalan word for a type of earthenware pot. We, too, enjoy all the varieties of Brebis cheeses from the soft to those aged for about a year for a harder, stronger product. In southwestern France, we sampled the Brebis Percier, an excellent blue cheese made from ewe’s milk, which was extremely buttery with a robust and savory ‘blue’ flavor. In Pau, we discovered an unusual soft sheep cheese from a ‘fermier’ in Rouergue. It was given the name Brebichon, and was most similar to a ripe, runny Camembert - with the vigorous, but mellow, savory flavors of a brebis-sec hard cheese. If you take this cheese back to the confines of your hotel room, beware of the strong, permeating, ripe smell. The Brebichon was one of our favorite recent cheese finds. A good representative of the semi-soft to semi-hard brebis cheeses, that I know I have seen in the U.S., is the Basque Étorki. In the Iraty-Ossau appellation, along the Route du Fromage, we found several examples of sheep and cow, or goat and cow, or sheep and goat milk cheese combinations. Unfortunately, it is difficult to provide identifying names for most of these products, as they are usually made by individual ‘fermiers’ who have handwritten signs merely indicating that a huge round of cheese is “brebis-vache.” In local shops in both southwestern France and northern Spain we purchased an Ardi-Gasna variety sheep cheese named Ardia. It was a deliciously flavorful, semi-soft, smooth unctuous-textured cheese. In the town of Ceret, we purchased individual serving-sized rounds (about 1.5 inch diameter and 3/8-inch thickness) of a hard, fresh, brebis cheese, which, based on its appearance, I thought would be a soft, runny chevre. It tasted fresh and savory, and although pressed to a hard consistency, was very smooth and melting on the tongue. A few days later, in the same area, we were served a small, one-serving sized cheese that was very similar in appearance and texture to that small brebis round. The main difference was that the interior color was much whiter, and it had the faintest hint of goat – as it was, in fact, made from goat’s milk. Although I am not a huge fan of the extremely goaty goat cheeses in the U.S., some of the best cheeses I have tasted in southwestern France were made from 100% goat’s milk. A Tomme de Chevre from the area around Pau and another goat cheese purchased during market day in Clermont de l’Herault, were both wonderfully balanced, creamy rich, smooth, semi-soft cheeses with a complexity of strong but not overpowering flavor. If I had not been told, I would not have guessed that either of them had been made from pure goat’s milk – or any goat’s milk at all. They were both cut from large rounds, 18 inches or more in diameter and 5 to 6 inches high. The thick rind on the chunk from the Clermont market had a mottled, ashy-gray coat over a thin yellow layer of some substance that I took to be a culture or desirable mold. As with winemaking, a number of factors will affect an individual type of cheese, from one producer to the next, and one year to the next - the species of sheep, cow, or goat, the season, and the vegetation on which they fed, to name a few. If you are very keen on learning more about the cheeses of this area, the very best resource I discovered is The French Cheese Book by Patrick Rance, published in 1989 by MacMillan London. Although he does not cover Spain, he provides an incredible wealth of background information and history about the cheeses of the Pyrenees and western Languedoc regions, and all the departments of France. This book is no longer in print, but used copies can be hunted down. I was very sorry to hear that Mr. Rance passed away just a few years ago. - Marina
  20. In Montpellier, try to make reservations at the Lycée Hotelier restaurant, La Colline. As with other hotel schools the restaurant is the ultimate test for the young chefs in training. As a result, customers are treated to near perfect service and food preparations. It is extremely difficult to get a reservation, but well worth it. Two other very good restaurants in Montpellier are Le Menestrelle and Isadora. Although the Michelin 3-star Le Jardin des Sens is located in that town, we have not tried it. A very good place to sample quality cuisine of the terroir is the restaurant at the Hostellerie Saint Benoit, located in Aniane, approximately 35 km north of Montpellier. This is an ideal spot for lunch while visiting some of the wineries in Languedoc?s ?Golden Triangle? of Montpeyroux, Jonquières, and St. Saturnin. Very near Jonquières, in the tiny town of St. Jean-de-la-Blaquière is Le Sanglier, an inn with modest rooms, which serves first rate cuisine of the terroir. Collioure has a wealth of good restaurants, both along the water and tucked along the narrow streets. For a terroir experience, I would recommend a cozy, little, bohemian restaurant on the Rue du Docteur Coste ? Le Zouave. Although it labels itself as a tapas restaurant, it serves very hearty portions of traditional French, Spanish and Catalan regional food, fresh and expertly prepared by a young espresso-sipping, cigarette-smoking, young chef in a t-shirt. The tarte tatin and prune cake portions were for giants, served on dinner sized plates. Slightly north of Collioure, in Argelès sur Mer, we had a very tasty meal at the Michelin 1-star Auberge du Roua?La Belle Demeure, however, the service was extremely spotty and indifferent, which diminished our experience. Near Figueres, we enjoyed our meals at Mas Pau, a lovely small hotel and Michelin 1-star restaurant located in a converted 16th century stone farm house. Very good Catalan food with some modern tweaks. I will not discuss the obvious eateries of El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, and El Raco de Can Fabes. Having said that, we met a group of physicians from Tarragona who agreed that Can Roca was the best deal in Spanish Catalonia for both the dining experience and the price. They believed that the dining experience at El Bulli and Can Fabes were not very much better than Can Roca to merit the menu prices charged. They were horrified by the cost to eat at Can Fabes. Other than these comments I would point you toward some of the eGullet Spain threads I reviewed by Robert Brown on restaurants in Girona and Barcelona. He has written some very complete reviews of the best places to eat in these areas. - Marina
  21. One of my objectives during the course of writing Tastes of the Pyrenees was to select a modest number of recipes that are representative of the various cooking styles of the area. Another consideration was that a recipe could be easily duplicated using ingredients found in the U.S. and U.K. Hopefully, you will find that most, but not all, of the recipes I included in the book are relatively easy to prepare. For a few recipes whose preparations are fairly simple or straightforward,* and result in a very flavorful and robust dish, you might try the: Tomatoes Roasted with Garlic and Herbs, Garlic Squid or Shrimp, Escalivada, Roasted Rabbit (stuffed or unstuffed) with Allioli, Basque Chicken, Duck Magret with Walnut Garlic Sauce, Monkfish with Golden Garlic, Marinated Trout with Mint and Ham, and the Fruit in Red Wine dessert. If you can locate some of the more specialty items, such as bacalao or salt cod, anchovies, fresh rabbit, pine nuts, and chorizo in the U.K. you should be able to make all the recipes in my book, as well as other regional dishes. * By the term straightforward, I mean that a dish is simple to prepare, but the steps may be somewhat time consuming as one must chop, peel, marinate, or otherwise ready various ingredients before the final assembly. - Marina
  22. I am flattered that you might think my expertise and experience with Basque and Pyrenees style restaurants spans the breadth of the entire United States. I know of a few good restaurants in some urban areas, such as New York, which has the famous La Cote Basque in midtown Manhattan, which serves French food with a Basque emphasis, and the more distinctively Basque, Marichu, adjacent to the United Nations. In the San Francisco area, the fine dining restaurant, Fringale, serves food in the French Basque style, and B44 serves authentic Catalan fare. Near Palo Alto, California, the restaurant Sent Sovi prepares some fine Catalan dishes alongside other international dishes. You may be able to obtain more information at the Basque Cultural Center located in South San Francisco. However, if you are seeking good Basque home cooking as you travel through the country, I would advise you to look primarily in the western states where large numbers of Basque people settled; California, Idaho, and Nevada having the largest ethnically Basque population. In California, Fresno and Bakersfield seem to have the greatest ties to the Basque traditions and food, and in Nevada, Reno, Winnemucca and Elko are known for their large Basque presence. This link to a Sunset Magazine article may give you a start with Basque restaurants in these and other western state cities: http://www.sunset.com/sunset/Premium/Trave...asqueT0500.html You may also find some helpful information from the North American Basque Organization's website, at http://www.naboinc.com - Marina
  23. As I reviewed your question again after I composed my reply, I realized that you changed your original question to a new one, above. My reply, below, is to your original question: "in some lights spanish modernism seems about humor, to french's more intellectual take. do you see any of that in cuisine? *cervantes, goya, bunuel and gaudi say **flaubert, manet, duchamp, goddard and baudelaire" Very much so. After sampling a number of the finest restaurants throughout this region, I have learned the degree to which these chefs are true artists, entertainers, and magicians. As with any artist, one can become acquainted with the personality of each chef, as expressed through the dishes they choose to create. I would say that one of the trademarks of Ferran Adria is to show sleight of hand or humor throughout his menus. One dish I recall was a “Black Rice” that was not Black Rice, consisting of bean sprouts cut to the length of grains of cooked rice, served in a squid ink sauce and accompanied by flash fried baby squid. Other dishes designed to shatter taste expectations based on appearance include, a “couscous” made entirely from cauliflower, and tagliatelle carbonara, in which the noodles were made entirely from thin slices of consomme jelly. At Akelarre, Pedro Subijana injects humor into several of his creations. Taste, temperature and texture are sometimes enhanced with a dimension of live activity to become more of a full sensory experience. Usually in appetizers or desserts, Chef Subijana will add his equivalent of ‘Pop Rocks’ into an ingredient, that when eaten will crackle and pop in your mouth. We were once served a light and wonderful carrot cake dessert, which bore no resemblance to any cake of that name in the U.S. One of the elements on the plate was a strip of dried fruit which fizzed on our tongues. During our most recent dining experience at Akelarre, we had a foie gras “sandwich” in which the foie gras was served between two triangular slices of citrus flavored meringue. We also sampled his popular Gin and Tonic novelty dessert. All the gin and tonic elements are served on a plate – a clear, colorless mound of Beefeater gin and tonic gelatin, a scoop of lemon sorbet, and crushed juniper berries in sugar syrup – when eaten together, tastes and is exactly like the drink of the same name. My personal vote goes to El Celler de Can Roca as the restaurant that displayed the most creative artistry, and impish humor in its dishes, primarily desserts. Other than the every-flavor Anarchy (Anarquia) dessert, which I mentioned in a Spain thread on El Bulli, Chef Joan Roca and Pastry Chef Jordi Roca have created several other highly whimsical desserts. Their adaptation of the Lancôme perfume “Miracle” consisted of a peach purée sorbet, sprinkled with tiny gelatin cubes concentrated with the flavors of roses, lychee, and honey, and surrounded by a sauce of apricots, violets, loquats, and ginger. Startlingly aromatic and ambrosial. As a testament to their confidence at having created an edible perfume “Miracle,” a strip of paper scented with the actual Lancôme perfume accompanied the dessert in a separate cup. We did not taste their “Perfume Angel” adaptation of a Thierry Mugler scent. The most humorous dessert on the menu was the “Havana Trip.” It was served on a large crystal ashtray, and consisted of a chocolate “Partagas cigar” filled with ice cream, with one end covered in gray powdered sugar “ashes;” and accompanied by a Mojito sorbet. I enjoyed that question. - Marina Part II: As you might surmise from my response to your original question (above), I believe that the creations by Catalan chefs show quite a bit of humor. Perhaps the reason is due to the fact that the chefs of Catalonia that I discussed are Spanish Catalan chefs as opposed to French Catalan chefs. It is my opinion that Catalan dishes are distinguished from other traditional Spanish and French dishes by their inventive and daring use of seemingly disparate ingredients. Catalan cooks regularly create unique vegetable and meat or seafood combinations, and clever blends of sweet and savory ingredients. I could make the connection between Gaudi and Catalan cuisine. - Marina
  24. I think they said they were full, but perhaps at the time I just assumed this to be the reason. On the second request we faxed, other than mentioning my cookbook mission, my husband essentially begged for a reservation, stating that we could come at any available time over the course of three days. We saw a few empty tables during our lunch there, but we were treated like royalty. - Marina.
  25. I agree that the U.S. markup on many Spanish wines is quite high. We purchased a bottle of Guelbenzu Lautus (Latin for ‘magnificent’) in Pamplona for the equivalent of $23.00 (USD). When we could find it back in the U.S., the exact same wine cost $64.00. Although, if we are discussing the Priorat wines which tend to be priced especially high, this is an area where part of the higher cost can be attributed to the harsh growing conditions of the area. The vines must struggle to generate even the low grape yield produced. While less fruit per vine lends great concentration of flavor and power to each grape and the resulting wine, it also makes these delicious wines a scarce commodity. The D.O. (denominación de origen) is equivalent to the French A.O.C. (appellation d’origine controlée). In Spain, the D.O. refers to a specific geographical area controlled by a Consejo Regulador, which specifies the area in which the grapes of that denomination must be grown, the grape varieties permitted, grape vine density, pruning methods to be used, how the wines are to be matured, and limitations on the alcohol and sugar content of a wine. A stricter denomination category, the D.O.C. (denominación de origen calificada), was created in 1991. A wine must meet even more definitive standards in order to earn this label. To my knowledge, only wines in the Rioja region have been able to meet these higher standards. When I visited the Rioja Alta winery, our tour guide said that their ability to label a wine 'reserva' did not ensure that that wine would be better than a well crafted crianza with less aging. It merely meant that they jumped through the required hoops to obtain the label for that wine. You may find some excellent wines that have not received a D.O or D.O.C. designation merely because the winemaker chose a variety of grape that is not traditionally grown in the region, or he or she used grapes obtained from an area beyond the exact area designated by the government. In bars in Rioja we have had some vinos jovenes (young wines) that are apparently not even bottled, never exported, and are quite good. They are truly traditional wines in that they are drunk almost immediately and never leave the area. - Marina
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